It began when I was nine.First diagnosis: Inflammation on right thumb.I attempted to play basketball with my much larger brothers. For some reason, my thumb swells a few hours later.”No problem, it’ll disappear after a few days.”It didn’t. In fact, I endured months of discomfort just doing the simplest tasks. Doing homework with a pen resulted in excruciating pain, as did grabbing a glass or turning a doorknob. It was horrible. So when my hands finally became free from inflammation, I made sure to make the most out of them — badminton with family and friends, handwritten heartfelt letters to loved ones on special occasions, and little gestures like drawing smiley faces and notes of encouragement on people’s papers whenever they feel down. It gave much more meaning to the hands I once took for granted. Second diagnosis: Inflammation on multiple toes.After stubbing my toes on my bed, they swelled so much that I couldn’t walk. Worried, I finally went to the doctor.THE Diagnosis: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.For three few years, I took medicine to control this. I was thus elated when my arthritis finally disappeared. But then…Worst diagnosis: Inflammation on sacroiliac joints.The swelling threatened to reach my spine, which could result in permanent damage.There were days when standing for even a few seconds proved impossible due to the pain, and I was constantly at the mercy of other people to help me walk. I’d lie in bed thinking, mourning the “normal” body and life that I’d “lost.” What followed were months of medication, battling a condition that was inherently within my system. Introspectively, this meant my greatest enemy was myself, both physically AND mentally. Realizing that I also had to live my life in spite of, and not necessarily free from, my condition, I began walking myself around. For more than a year, I forged on despite the pain. Only through this method of using my daily life as self-therapy did I manage to never miss a day of school. Thankfully, my condition subsided for good afterwards.From that point on, I allowed my legs to carry me to places, in full appreciation of the mobility they permitted me. Along the Mourne Mountains that inspired Narnia, I breathed in fresh air and paused for a self-reflection. The view was definitely worth all those years of struggling to get better.Current diagnosis: Minor inflammations on knees and heel.Life went on. The occasional swelling of various joints in my body didn’t stop me from pursuing my goals. Finally, years of hard work brought me to Hong Kong and Brazil for the International Math Olympiad, and while my knees stiffened on the plane ride, the lessons I learned had far more impact on the way I carried myself. When our IMO team became dispirited over missed points due to carelessness, I became the “big brother” despite being second youngest and acted as their stress manager, reminding everyone of how far we’ve gotten. In fact, the only thing we can do over our lost points is to use it as motivation to do better in the next IMO and to just accept it. Now, it’s clear to me what arthritis had done to me. Dealing with it on top of the rigors of high school and a plethora of extracurricular activities equipped me to face the unexpected, both physically and mentally. And despite attaining less than desirable results at times, I learned to adapt to these and motivate myself to do better.My arthritis is but a shell of what it once was. And while my thumb remains slightly thickened despite no swelling, to me, it serves as a reminder that challenges have beset my life, but I can persevere through them anyway and reach for my goals. This thickness called tenacity is my armor in life.Diagnosis: Still persevering through life’s challenges.